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 Twelfth Night Study Guide (Choose to Continue)

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Twelfth Night: Theme Analysis

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A happy Shakespearean play, Twelfth Night is a story of cross dressing and mistaken identity.  It is filled with sexual tension between the characters and poetic words on love.  The play is meant to bring laughter to the audience while touching their hearts.  The main story is of a girl who dresses as a boy so she can have employment in a noble household.  She quickly comes to favor and falls in love with the man for whom she.  Even though she loves him, she keeps her identity as a boy and delivers his messages of love to the other woman. 
However, aside from Viola's story, the play has many small plots.  The discussion on the fool shows that people are not always as they seem, for though Feste is the jester, he is witty and knowledgeable.  He is also a talented actor and singer.  The noble in the play, Sir Andrew, actually turns out to be the foolish one.  Also a paradox is the attitude of Malvolio.  Although he holds a respected position in the household, he is arrogant and thinks himself above his position.  The prank that Maria, Toby, Anthony, Fabian, and the Fool play on him is to try to put him in his place. 
Another theme is in the story of Antonio.  Though he is a criminal in Illyria, Antonio saves Sebastian's life and risks his life for him.  He offers him money and helps to get him lodging.  Lastly, he steps into the fight between Cesario and the gentleman of Olivia's house.  He does this out of kindness that is usually not associated with criminals. 
Finally, the last paradox in Twelfth Night is the idea of a woman being the head of the household.  At the death of her family, Olivia takes charge of the household, which would normally be ruled by a male such as Sir Toby.  This theme may have arisen in Shakespeare's play because it was written at a time when a woman was the leader of England. 




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